Visionary "V" gardens from Veddw to Vinales
Val Rahmeh in the south of France is definitely one of the most voluptuous gardens I've seen yet - with its glorious cacti and succulents, its marvellous lily pond overlooking the sea below and steeped terraces bordered with magnificent Mediterranean plants. One of two outstanding gardens in Menton - the other is Serre de la Madone, summer home of Lawrence Johnston of Hidcote fame. This is where I first encountered the huge Victoria water lilies that made me gasp. (Click on link for full review and more pictures).
Veddw - glorious Welsh garden, created by Anne Wareham of thinkinGardens and Charles Hawe, photographer - was a garden I'd wanted to see since I first started this blog ... and I finally got there last spring. It's an astounding property with the most interesting planting and design I've ever seen - featuring undulating terraces of hedging (reflected above in a pond in the middle of the garden); a fantastic vegetable garden; secret rooms and wonderful vistas over the surrounding countryside. This is more of a landscape exhibition than a garden - a 5* site and worth travelling a huge distance to see if you get the opportunity. This is one of my favourite top ten in the world!
Villa Ephrussi, former home of Baroness Beatrice de Rothschild, who made all of her 35 gardeners wear sailor suits to work, is one of the most Over the Top gardens I've ever encountered and worth visiting just to marvel at the audacity of this French society hostess, who had limitless funds to spend on her property. She even removed a hill to make sure that the main part of the garden was on flat ground, but once the work had been done, she divorced her husband and moved away! From the musical fountains to the over-sweet begonia scene above, this garden will have you gaping! Easy to combine with the great Menton properties mentioned above.
There's some visionary planting at Ventnor - a really surprising botanical garden on the Isle of Wight - and a real find when you look at the rest of the island and it's endless tourist attractions! Formerly part of the Harold Hillier empire, where tropical plants were grown, it's now run by the local council and is a real credit to them. Even more amazing is that this garden is FREE to visit! I spent several happy hours here on a sunny, summer afternoon and was astounded by the range of plants displayed. Definitely one to bookmark if you're heading to the island!
The whole of the Vinales area in Cuba's Pinar del Rio province is one huge garden (above). This is prime tobacco growing land in the east of the island, where every corner you turn gives glorious views of verdant countryside and small farms like the one above, in the middle of nowhere. Vinales town is home to one of the most charming small gardens I've encountered anywhere in the world - the Casa de Caridad Botanical Garden - filled to bursting with fruit trees and tropical plants (and mosquitoes ... so take your DEET with you).
Viscaya near Miami in Florida, is heralded as one of the great American gardens, but I have to confess that it didn't do it for me and I saw many other spectacular gardens in the United States during my travels last year as comparison. You certainly can't complain about its location, but it feels a little tired to me (perhaps because it's run by the local council, but no excuse when you consider the garden at Ventnor above). Staff here were extremely indifferent, almost to the point of being unhelpful. I'll take The Kampong and Fairchild Tropical Gardens (both just around the corner) any day!